Monday, January 8, 2018

Queenstown extremes

Day 3 in Queenstown. I woke up sans plans. I did a quick online search through the list of discounted activities (Money-saving NZ tip #4 or maybe 5, I'm losing count. Check this site often, you will never know what you will find). The Million Dollar Cruise was available for that morning. I'd heard good things about this easy-going trip on Lake Wakatipu and a sunny day on the water is always good so I booked it.

This would keep me busy all morning but I still had the rest of the day to fill. I'd entertained the idea of bungy jumping. Doing it here, where it was invented would be super cool, but if I was going to stick to any kind of budget, it just was not feasible. Instead, I was looking at other, more economical options (ie a 10 km hike, a kiwi sanctuary, tobogganing). At the same time, my loca friend Angela, who had been staying in my apt for Art Basel, was texting me, asking where to leave the key, where to put the recycling, etc. As we covered all the basic housekeeping stuff, she asked what I was up to and I filled her in on my now half-planned day. I had just hit send when I saw an unfamiliar notification. Venmo? Before I had a chance to read it, I got another text from Angela that read "Go jump, bitch! I just venmo'ed you the money." "Wait!! What?! You did what?" "I was going to get you a gift card but you are so not material that I'm getting you an experience instead." As it sank in that I was going to actually get the chance to jump- in Queenstown, no less- it's a miracle I managed to keep from screaming and waking up every single person in that dorm room and the one next to it, too.

There are three options for bungying in Queenstown: the Kawarau Bridge, where AJ Hackett opened the world's first commercial bungy jump; the Nevis Bungy,  at 134 meters, the highest one in town and the Ledge Bungy, where you jump over the city itself. I wanted to go old school and do the original, which tends to sell out.   I ran out of bed and was at the tour agency the moment they opened. There was one spot left at 2:30pm and I nabbed it! This was happening!!

But first, I had the cruise. When I mentioned this to the guy at the booking office, he laughed that I would be doing both the most mellow and the most adrenaline-fueled activities Queenstown had to offer, all in the course of a day.

The 90 minute scenic trip aboard the Million Dollar Cruise was fantastic. The company is owned by a local couple and is clearly a labor of love. The husband, a jovial dude who looks like a Kiwi Alan Thicke, was our captain and was running a one-man operation. When he wasn't steering the boat or telling us all about the area and its lakefront residents, he was running around offering to take photos. The downstairs bar was run on an honor system with a cash box for making change.

We learned about the purity of the water, 99.9%, which is so high that it will not conduct electricity, You drop a plugged in hair dryer and nothing will happen (other than you will probably mess up your hair dryer). There is no bottled water on the market as pure as that in Lake Wakatipu.

The lake takes the shape of a lightning bolt or the letter Z but the Maori legend sees it a little differently. A beautiful princess fell in love with a commoner and her father forbade their marriage, because no culture can escape a tale of star-crossed lovers. Enter an evil giant who kidnaps the princess and takes her to his lair. The distraught father proclaims that whoever saves his daughter can also marry her and whaddaya know, the commoner saves the day by finding her and helping her escape. Later, he returns to finish the job and sets fire to the sleeping giant, whose burnt form melts the snow and creates the lake. Somehow, the giant's heart survived and it is the reason why the lake still rises and falls about 10 cm every half hour.

The Remarkables Mountain Range

Once the boat trip was over, I still had two hours before I had to be at the Bungy office but I was too excited to eat.  It was kind of like that nervous tingle you get when you are in line for a roller coaster and you are almost next only I was feeling this all day.

I was not alone. At the bungy office. you could feel the buzz coming off the other jumpers. There were lots of nervous smiles as we underwent a pretty extensive check-in process. After filling out the expected health questions and liability releases, you are weighed. Your weight is then written on your left hand with a bright orange sharpie. (Note to the bungy people: I'm sure there is a more discreet way to handle that  but whatevs). On your right hand, you get a series of codes indicating which bus you are supposed to board and what it is that you are doing when you get there  (bungy or zipline), written in a bright green sharpie. If things were to go horribly wrong, you would go out of this world looking like a Memento Cosplayer who really likes UM colors.

People have been jumping from the Kawarau Bridge for over twenty-eight years so it's not surprising that the staff has this down to a science.  Once you arrive, you are given a quick briefing where it is highly suggested that you use the bathroom beforehand.

It is also stressed that there is a full bar on the premises should you need to give yourself a little extra courage. I didn't want to do anything that could dilute the experience so I skipped the bar and spent the time watching others jumping.

From the moment you meet back up with your bungy group leader to the time when they remove the harness, the staff engages with jumpers in non-stop small talk. Where are you from? How do you like New Zealand? Is this your first time jumping? Etc. The purpose, it seems, is to keep you distracted enough that by that by time you realize you are standing on a teeny tiny platform about to jump, it is too late to turn back.

After getting weighed a second time, I was chatting away with the guy wrapping a towel around my calves as he executed a complicated series of knots around my ankles.  One of the questions he asked was how wet I wanted to get. This is a "water touch" jump and you tell them how far into the water you want to go (just hands, full head, full body) and then they adjust the tension on the cord accordingly with the caveat that the calculations only work on a "perfect" jump. There is no guarantee you will actually reach the water. I asked for a head dunk.

At some point, it went from our breezy conversation to me staring down at the water below me but how I got there feels fuzzy, it happened so fast. Next thing I knew, his buddy was asking me if I was ready. I laughed nervously, asked "what have I gotten myself into?" and then I just let myself fall.

I am a woo hoo'er. If I go on a roller coaster, thrill ride, even sky diving, I always woo hoo. I woo hoo loud and often.  As I began to fall, I attempted to woo hoo but it is such a shock to the system that nothing came out.

I kept expecting to go into water but I never did . Or so I thought. Afterwards, I watched a video of my jump and my hands very clearly break the plane of the water but if I had not seen the video, I would argue that it didn't happen.

After rebounding a couple of times, which is such an amazingly cool feeling and not as "jerky" as it looks, I came to a stop about 20 feet above the boat where they were holding a 10 foot stick and asking me to grab it so they could guide me in. There was no way I could reach that thing. I had missed the water and now I had stopped too high up. As I dangled there, thinking I would be stuck for hours while someone came up with a bigger stick, I can truthfully say that was the most nervous I was all day.  So much so that I did not notice that they must have been lowering me from above because suddenly the stick was within reach.

As I got off the boat, I could not stop smiling.  I don't think I stopped until well into the next day. I now feel like one of those religious zealots that is always trying to convert people only my cause is getting everyone I know to jump. I can't think of a more freeing experience.

Fact, there is no way you are going to top a bungy jump. Don't even try. I accepted this as I sat in at the Ice bar, sipping a cocktail from an frozen glass, thinking to myself "Isn't this cute?" and willing people to ask me why I had my weight written on my hand.

As I sat there, I had to think how crazy this had all been.  I had woken up with no set plans and ended up with the most perfect day imaginable. For this: Thank you Angela. Thank you Kiwi Alan Thicke. Thank you Kawarau bungy people.

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